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Posts from the "Waterfront" Category

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SFMTA Tests Bike/Ped Wayfinding Signs During America’s Cup

A sign spotted on Polk Street. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA has installed 40 temporary wayfinding signs at 27 locations to guide people walking and biking to the America’s Cup races starting next month, according to agency spokesperson Ben Jose. Though the SFMTA installed wayfinding signs for walking during the preliminary races last summer, this may be the first time the city has provided estimated travel times and distances for people on bikes.

The signs were installed as part of the People Plan, billed by Mayor Ed Lee as a transportation strategy to avoid inundating the waterfront with car congestion during America’s Cup by encouraging visitors to come by foot, bike, and transit.

The temporary signage could also be a precursor to the wayfinding systems called for in the SFMTA Bicycle and Pedestrian Strategies. In New York City, the department of transportation unveiled its pedestrian wayfinding system yesterday.

Jose said planners are “testing out some concepts that will inform the SFMTA’s development of more robust permanent wayfinding” systems.

“The signs were designed to be useful regardless of whether or not people are going to the America’s Cup events or not,” he said. “This reflects another one of the People Plan’s core values — that our transportation strategies should support San Franciscans in their regular travel around the race areas in addition to race visitors and participants.”

Jose said “certain signs are race days-specific while others offer distance and time information for pedestrians and bicyclists.” He said they will be taken down in September once the races finish.

See a map of sign locations after the jump.

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Livable City: Ticket Fee a Smart Way to Fund Transit to Warriors Arena

A rendering of the proposed Warriors basketball arena on the Embarcadero. Image: Golden State Warriors

Transporting folks to and from a new Warriors arena, condo, and hotel development planned for Piers 30-32 along the Embarcadero will require smart planning and the money to fund improvements for transit, walking, and biking to avoid clogging the waterfront with cars.

But Muni typically gets shorted when it beefs up transit service to bring fans to major sports and music events around the city, says Supervisor Scott Wiener, who yesterday proposed adding a $1 to $3 transit surcharge to tickets for such events. Wiener asked the City Controller’s Office to study the impacts of such a fee, and he says preliminary estimates indicate it could bring in anywhere from $3 million to $22 million per year for Muni, depending on the size of the fee and which venues pay it.

“Muni doesn’t have enough light rail vehicles, its vehicles frequently break down, and service has degraded,” Wiener said in a statement. “With a growing population and a possible new sports/concert arena at Piers 30-32, now is the time to ensure that Muni can meet not only today’s transit needs, but also the transit needs of the future.”

“Currently, the Muni underground is overwhelmed whenever there’s a Giants game. With the addition of the new arena, the strain on Muni service will be even more severe.”

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City and president of the BART Board of Directors, said the proposal “would certainly help Muni run the extra service,” for which the agency often pays transit operators overtime.

Radulovich pointed out that the surcharge wouldn’t necessarily come out of fans’ pockets, since venue managers would likely lower their ticket prices to match the going rate. “If they could charge two bucks extra on a ticket already, they’d be doing it,” he said. “They price them to fill the seats.”

An even better proposal, Radulovich noted, would be for event tickets to include a free Muni ride to encourage attendees to take transit instead of drive.

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Livable City: Parking Lot on Ferry Terminal Plaza Would Be Shameful

Equity Office's rendering of a parking lot in the middle of the plaza with temporary improvements around the edges. (Pay no attention to the cars!)

The plaza behind the Ferry Building, known largely as a farmer’s market venue and a place for ferry commuters to pass through, could be temporarily turned into a 64-space part-time parking lot during weekdays under a plan being considered by the Port Commission. Equity Office, which leases the Ferry terminal, is pushing the 18-month proposal as a way to generate revenue to underwrite pilot public space improvements around the plaza’s edges during that time.

“To turn this open space into a parking lot is just shameful. No city worth its salt would do that,” Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich told the Port Commission at a hearing on Tuesday. The proposal, he added, would draw more traffic to “one of the most transit-rich places on the continent,” while running “completely contrary” to city and port policies to expand open space at the waterfront and to remove, not add, car parking (especially over water). Furthermore, he argued, past cases have shown that “temporary” parking is rarely temporary.

“If the proposal before you today were an authentic proposal to activate this public space, we would laud it, but it is not,” Radulovich wrote in an email to the Port Commission. “At most times, this plaza will be used to store private cars, which at most times blight and deaden this space, increase traffic along our waterfront, and impose new dangers on pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders in the surrounding streets and public spaces.”

This isn’t EO’s first attempt to turn the plaza into a parking lot. Radulovich said livable streets advocates managed to convince the Port Commission to reject a similar proposal in 2009.

The new proposal was presented to the commission for informational purposes; it wasn’t up for a vote this week. Commissioners won’t voice positions on it until they have more information to consider how it would fall in line with Port plans and policies. EO didn’t say how much revenue would be generated by the parking.

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Planning Commission OKs Parking-Saturated Condo Project at Embarcadero

Not pictured: a 400-space undergound parking garage and all the car traffic it will generate. Image: Hutner Descollonges via 8Washington.com

A luxury waterfront condo and parking garage development is on its way to the central Embarcadero, even though it would add three times the number of residential parking spaces allowed by law, plus 255 public spaces, to one of San Francisco’s most transit-rich destinations.

The SF Planning Commission approved the environmental impact report for the 8 Washington Street project in a 4-2 vote yesterday after a joint hearing with the Recreation and Parks Commission that lasted seven hours. The project must still be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

The garage would include a parking spot for each of the 145 units (three times what the planning code permits) and 255 public spaces, which the Port claims are needed to replace other nearby parking being removed. The project would bring some park space and pedestrian enhancements, but the enormous underground public parking garage will wipe out any benefit by serving as a magnet for car traffic in an area that already caters too much to the automobile, even after its revitalization following the removal of a freeway.

“We think it’s a terrible idea,” said Livable City Director Tom Radulovich, who argues the area already accommodates excessive amounts of car parking given its proximity to multiple downtown transit options. “With the exception, maybe, of Midtown Manhattan and the Chicago Loop, I can’t think of a place in the United States that has got more transit service.”

8 Washington will be located within walking distance of numerous neighborhood amenities and transit lines, including Muni light rail and BART stations. Radulovich also noted that future transit projects like high-speed rail are poised to make it an even more ideal spot for reliable car-free travel.

Jonathan Stern, the Port’s director for waterfront development, argued to the Planning Commission that the parking is needed for Ferry Building customers who drive to “carry large objects” and who compete with driving commuters for spots, also noting that the underground garage will be “out of sight.” The Port says that 961 parking spaces within a 15-minute walk of the building, including the 105-space parking lot currently located on the 8 Washington site, have recently been removed or will be removed in coming years.

Advocates who’ve looked at the numbers say the Port’s parking supply analysis is severely flawed. Existing parking garages and lots in the area are poorly utilized, according to Radulovich, who says that more than enough parking would be provided by converting underused commuter parking spaces to short-term parking for Ferry Building visitors who drive, though that could be challenging to do in private garages.

“The Port’s taken this position that the high watermark of parking, the maximum number of historic parking spaces, is the natural or logical number of parking spaces,” said Radulovich. “We think that’s kind of a bogus approach.”

A 2005 study [PDF] by the SF County Transportation Authority found that despite “a perceived shortage” of parking in the area, off-street lots and garages were occupied at a rate of just 21 percent and on-street parking 70 percent. “This could be because some garages are less visible or in areas that less familiar to tourists,” the study says, “which implies that better driver information systems, even just better signage, would improve the parking situation today.” It also noted that luring drivers into garages with comparatively lower prices, as the SFPark program is currently doing, would help optimize use of the existing parking.

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What Can SF Learn from Other Cities’ Urban Water Projects?

(Editor's note: This is Part 3 in a 3-part series on the Bay Area watershed. In Part 1, we examined a radical new daylighting proposal in Berkeley; and in Part 2, we looked at the changes that SF streets may face under a bold plan by the Public Utilities Commission.)

Phalen Creek in St. PaulPhalen Creek in St. Paul, MN
Although the daylighting of underground urban streams has its roots here in the Bay Area, it's a practice that's spread around the country and the world in the last few decades.

Early daylighting projects like the Napa River, Strawberry Creek, and Codornices Creek formed the basis for a worldwide shift in the possibilities presented by urban watersheds. Now, a series of best-practices has begun to emerge from the ever-growing number of daylighted streams around the world, which could inform the proposed transformations of creeks here in San Francisco.

The SF Public Utilities Commission is now studying the feasibility of daylighting Yosemite Creek, Islais Creek, and Stanley Creek. While their research is underway, Streetsblog decided to take a closer look at successful urban water projects around the world from which planners might draw inspiration.

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The Lure of the Creeks Buried Beneath San Francisco’s Streets

(Editor's note: This is Part 2 in a 3-part series on the Bay Area watershed.)

San Francisco may be getting new waterfront soon, thanks to ambitious projects currently being studied by the city's Public Utilities Commission, including proposals for daylighting, or uncovering, long-buried creeks and streams and creating open-air channels that flow alongside the city's sidewalks and streets.

Top contenders for daylighting include: Islais Creek, originating in Glen Canyon Park and flowing through Bernal Heights to Islais Creek Channel, passing under Third Street just north of Bayview; Yosemite Creek, flowing from McLaren Park in Visitacion Valley through Portola to Bayview and entering the bay near Candlestick Park; and the little-known Stanley Creek, flowing along Brotherhood Way into Lake Merced near the border with Daly City.

Like the Center Street daylighting proposal in Berkeley, these projects wouldn't attempt to replicate a natural habitat, due to the limitations of dense human development. Instead, the PUC proposes a "compromise" approach that would merge the needs of communities with the hydrological benefits of exposed waterways.

And those benefits would be significant. A 2007 study by the PUC found that daylighting Yosemite Creek would reduce strains on the water system; an important finding, since those strains regularly cause raw sewage overflows that exceed federal limits. A three-hour storm -- such as the one seen last weekend -- could drop over 50 million gallons onto the Yosemite watershed, overwhelming pipes that are decades past their expected lifespan.

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Bay Area Cities Rediscover the Creeks Under Their Streets

ramblasperspect.jpgOne of the proposed designs for Center Street in Berkeley, by Ecocity Builders

(Editor's note: This is Part 1 in a 3-part series on the Bay Area watershed)

The proposal to convert Center Street in Berkeley from an asphalt thoroughfare to a park-like promenade -- revealing a long-hidden underground creek -- is the latest twist in the interesting and often-controversial story of the Bay Area's heavily-modified waterways.

The Center Street project is a striking reversal of a century-old trend towards burying Berkeley's creeks below ground. It's also an example of the relatively new practice of "daylighting" forgotten waterways, a trend said to have been unintentionally sparked forty years ago in nearby Napa.

In the 1970s, as part of the redevelopment of its downtown, the City of Napa stumbled upon a new way of thinking about the urban watershed: Instead of leaving the Napa River buried, engineers removed its cover, exposing it to daylight.

"In the 70s, there was the redevelopment," Barry Martin, Napa's Public Information Officer explained to Streetsblog. "and a number of buildings were taken down. The creek ran underneath some structures, so as they were designing this urban renewal project, [daylighting] was part of that."

"I don't think there was any environmental thinking going on at that time," he added.

Some urban planners debate whether Napa's construction in the 70s constitutes the country's first daylighting project. In 2003, Steve Donnelly, then co-director of the Urban Creeks Council, dismissed the project as the nation's first, saying, "all they did was take the top off a concrete channel."

Uncovering the waterway didn't fix Napa's watershed problems, either.

Forty years after its restoration began, Napa still struggles with the health of the Napa River: Frequent flooding plagued the city during the past decades, and engineers are only now getting the water flow under control, in part thanks to tactics similar to those employed by the settlers of 200 years ago.

In the 1800s, residents recognized that the east side of the river's oxbow was too wet to use in winter, and set aside the land as a summer fairground. An amphitheater now sits on the land, but there's more to the park than meets the eye: It serves as a buffer during floods, redirecting overflow away from more vulnerable areas.

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Streetfilms: San Francisco 350 Climate Action

350 parts per million. That’s the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide beyond which many scientists warn the earth’s climate may begin to spiral out of control. At higher concentrations, they say, heat-reflecting ice sheets will disappear and permafrost will melt, releasing vast amounts of additional greenhouse gases and driving sea levels higher in a vicious cycle. The earth’s atmosphere is currently at around 380 parts per million, and climbing.

For a young international movement, 350 is a rallying cry, an organizing principle. On October 24th, climate activists in over 180 countries with the group 350.org staged more than 5,200 demonstrations, pressuring world leaders to take meaningful action on global warming at upcoming United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen. In San Francisco, a ride of 350 cyclists in snorkels and flippers gathered at a downtown rally and traced a route through Bay-side neighborhoods threatened by rising sea levels.

Critics of the movement say the goal of stabilizing the atmosphere is too ambitious, and that even a cap of 450 parts per million would be difficult to achieve with curbs on carbon emissions. But the heated debate on the political possibilities of climate action is up against cold, hard, science.

The head of UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri, recently endorsed the goal of cutting emissions to 350 parts per million or less. Pachauri, who in 2007 split the Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore, was not able to advocate for any specific goals as chair of the IPCC, “but as  a human being I am fully supportive of that goal. What is happening, and what is likely to happen, convinces me that the world must be really ambitious and very determined at moving toward a 350 target."

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Revisiting the San Francisco Freeway Revolt

Editor's note: This piece was written for Shaping San Francisco and is now incorporated into the new wiki version, your best place to research San Francisco history, FoundSF.org.

Ecology1_freeway_protest_embarcadero.jpgProtesters march along Embarcadero in early 1960s, stump of Embarcadero Freeway ends behind them at Broadway.
Photo courtesy San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library

In the 1950s, the California Division of Highways had a plan to extend freeways across San Francisco. At that time the freeway reigned supreme in California, but San Francisco harbored the seeds of an incipient revolt which ultimately saved several neighborhoods from the wrecking ball and also put up the first serious opposition to the post-WWII consensus on automobiles, freeways, and suburbanization.

Fwy_NBeachIntx.jpgEarly plan for 8-lane freeway to cut under Russian Hill on its way from the Embarcadero to the Golden Gate Bridge.

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Don’t Forget To Come Play in the Streets This Sunday!

sunday_streets_thriller.jpgMembers of the California Outdoor Rollersports Association perform a Thriller dance at last year's Sunday Streets. Flickr photo: Jon Bauer
This weekend's Sunday Streets from 9am-1pm on the Embarcadero from the Giants ballpark to Aquatic Park promises to be more thrilling than last year's, with a lot more activities planned along the waterfront. So don't forget to come play in the streets! And send us your photos! Add to our feed by tagging bookmarks in del.icio.us with for:sf.streetsblog, pictures in Flickr with sf.streetsblog, or videos in YouTube with sf.streetsblog.